Land Law Reform: Achieving Development Policy Objectives (Law, Justice, and Development)


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Such sinful disobedience has a very high price, for it causes a particularly shameful lack of human solidarity, striking the weakest and future generations. This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family": Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, , no. Rather, man has to work, knowing that "he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history": John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, no.

The social teaching of the Church condemns not only latifundia and misappropriation of land as contrary to the principle that earthly goods are meant for everyone, but also various forms of exploitation of human labour, especially when it is rewarded with wages or other forms of payment that are unworthy of human dignity. Unjust remuneration for work performed and other forms of exploitation deny workers the "practical means whereby the vast majority of people can have access to those goods which are intended for common use: both the goods of nature and manufactured goods.

It often happens that policies intended to promote a proper use of the right to private ownership of land are unable to prevent its continued use in vast areas as an absolute right without any limitations coming from the corresponding social obligations. John Paul II launched a particularly dramatic appeal to members of the government and large landowners in Oaxaca, Mexico: " It is clear that those who must collaborate most in this, are those who can do the most. The social teaching of the Church repeats several times that the greatest possible realisation of agricultural productive potential must be guaranteed where a high percentage of the population is dependent on work on the land.

However, it must be emphasized that according to the social teaching, agrarian reform cannot be confined simply to redistribution of the ownership of land. The social teaching of the Church sees agrarian reform as an instrument capable of extending private ownership of land as long as public authorities follow three distinct but complementary lines of action:.

Dr. Mekonnen Friew Ayano on Ethiopian Land Policy

The social teaching of the Church condemns both latifundia as the expression of a socially irresponsible use of the right to property and as a serious obstacle to social mobility, and also State ownership of land as leading to a depersonalization of civil society. While it is aware that "it is not possible to determine a priori what the structure of farm life should be," 40 it suggests that family-owned and farmed enterprises should be actively promoted.

Land law reform : achieving development policy objectives / John W. Bruce ... [et al.].

Farm units of the size intended here use family labour for the most part, but can tap into the external labour market by taking on paid workers. Such farms should be large enough to allow the family sufficient earning, to retain possession of the farm, to have access to the land credit market, and to ensure sustainability of the rural environment also through appropriate use of inputs. The efficiency of its management and the social wealth thus produced mean that such a farm can create new opportunities for work and the human growth of all. It can make a very positive contribution not only to development of an efficient agrarian structure, but also to the implementation of the very principle that material goods should be used for all.

The social teaching of the Church does not consider individual property the only legitimate form of land ownership, but also holds common property, which is a feature of the social structure of many indigenous populations, in particular consideration. This form of ownership plays such an important part in the economic, cultural and political life of these peoples that it constitutes a fundamental element for their survival and well-being, while making an equally basic contribution to the protection of natural resources.

Defence and development of community ownership ought not to blind us to the fact that this type of ownership is bound to change.


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Any action aimed purely at guaranteeing its preservation would run the risk of binding it to the past and thus destroying it. Protection of the human rights which derive from labour is another fundamental line of action offered by the social teaching of the Church in order to ensure a correct exercise of the right to private ownership of land. The close links between work and property mean that the former represents a crucial instrument for ensuring that material goods are used for all. Public authorities therefore have the duty 44 of acting to ensure that these rights are respected and fulfilled, following three basic lines of action:.

The increasingly decisive factor in gaining access to the goods of the earth is no longer possession of land, but possession of the whole complex of know-how that people can accumulate. John Paul II has stated: "In our time, in particular, there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill. The more farmers know about the productive capacities of the land and other inputs, and the various possible ways of satisfying the needs of those for whom the fruit of their work is intended, the more fruitful this work will be, especially as a means of personal fulfillment through the use of their own intelligence and freedom.

Priority must therefore be given to setting up a system capable of providing the broadest possible range of knowledge and technical and scientific skills on the various educational levels.

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An agricultural structure marked by the misappropriation and concentration of land in latifundia acts as a major obstacle to a country's economic and social development. In the short term, it inhibits growth of agricultural production and employment, while in the long term, it causes poverty and waste, which tend to be self-perpetuating and to increase. In the face of such a situation, if the economy and society are to develop harmoniously, a major focus of concern should be an agricultural reform that ensures a different land distribution. The quality and success of development programmes draw substantial benefits, in fact, from the mobility of a country's internal resources and their distribution among the various sectors and social groupings.

This is the aim of an agrarian reform that ensures access to land, its efficient use and increased employment. It is increasingly clear that an agrarian reform of this type is a vital, necessary and imperative element of development policy. A developing agriculture raises farmers' incomes, increases the demand for the goods and services produced by industry and the service sector, and also strengthens the purchasing power of those living in rural areas but not engaged in agriculture.

An important effect of this development is that it stems the migratory push to the cities and the movement of the work force towards other sectors with the consequent effects on urbanization and the level of salaries. Increased agricultural productivity would guarantee food security for the population and favour growth in both the quality and quantity of foodstuffs through accessible prices. Experience has also shown that a growth in agriculture leads to an expansion in the industrial and service sectors, and hence to overall economic growth. Lastly, it should be noted that an agrarian reform which creates family-sized farms contributes considerably to strengthening the family by developing its members' capacities and sense of responsibility.

In situations of injustice and poverty, agrarian reform is not only an instrument of distributive justice and economic growth, but is also an act of great political wisdom. Such occupation is a complex and varied phenomenon, but even when situations of dire need provoke it, 49 it is always an act contrary to the values and rules of a truly civil social organisation.

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The climate of collective emotion generated can easily lead to a series of actions and reactions that can get out of hand, while the various forms of instrumentalisation which can so easily occur have very little to do with the issue of land. Land occupation is often an expression of an intolerable and morally indefensible state of affairs, and is an alarm bell calling for the implementation of effective and equitable solutions on the social and political level.

Governments have a special responsibility here, for their will and determination must ensure that no time is lost in providing these solutions. Delays in, or the postponing of, agrarian reform deprive their condemnation and repression of land occupation of any credibility. The benefits of such a reform will not be forthcoming, however, unless its programmes are correctly formulated. Their success must not be compromised by the error of thinking that agrarian reform refers simply to expropriation of large landholdings, their division into productive units compatible with the working capacity of individual families, and distribution of this land to those who have been accorded title to it.

An agrarian reform programme must certainly have short-term objectives so that it can have immediate results, given the serious nature of the social problems involved. It must therefore ensure that access to land fully meets these objectives.

Land Law Reform: Achieving Development Policy Objectives (Law, justice and development series)

In the medium and long term, however, if agrarian reform is confined simply to land redistribution, the struggle against poverty and under-development will not be won. The commitment to ensuring access to land constitutes merely the first part of the programme if agrarian reform is to offer a practical and sustainable response to the serious economic and social problems of the agricultural sector in developing countries.

The programme must continue to be developed over time and encompass actions that will ensure access both to the inputs and infrastructures that allow for a steady improvement in agricultural productivity and the marketing of such produce, as well as the enjoyment of the social services that improve people's quality of life and capacity for self-development, and consequently respect for indigenous populations. A final factor indispensable for the success of an agrarian reform is that it should be in full accord with national policies and those of international bodies.

Research is an essential component of any truly effective and efficient agrarian reform, since it allows for the pursuit of three essential aims: the supply of appropriate technology, growth of production and protection of the environment. Today, there is no longer need for any conflict between the use of techniques suited to small farms, the requirement of the latter to intensify production and the need to conserve natural resources. There is now a whole series of concrete examples demonstrating that relatively simple but innovative techniques are generally the most efficient, not only in increasing the productivity of soil and labour, but also in terms of their environmental compatibility.

Such examples also show that efficiency and compatibility are fairly closely linked to innovations in tilling methods and soil use, which tend to be strongly conditioned by the specific physical environment and local economy. Research and experimental activities make it possible to determine the precise innovations to be adopted in each individual case. Technical assistance is equally essential for an effective reform. Such a service represents the necessary complement to research and experimental activities, for the results of the latter cannot be introduced into everyday practice unless farmers are informed of their existence and convinced of their effectiveness.

On-going information and educational activities are therefore needed in order to provide farmers with sufficient professional know-how to meet the demands of agrarian reform. A technical assistance service is especially vital in order to teach farmers how to join forces and face the market together, for this is the only approach that can give them effective market power and provide informed guidance for their production choices. Agrarian reform programmes must also budget for the development of rural infrastructures, a third focus of action, and one decisive for the success of any reform.

A developing agriculture brings about a constant increase in demands for energy, roads, telecommunications and irrigation water. The offer of such services must be adapted to the demand. After setting up the necessary infrastructures, attention must also be paid to their correct management. Especially in the case of irrigation water, there is often the problem of reorganizing users and of adopting mechanisms to ensure a correct distribution of this resource so as to avoid misuse. Concrete access to legal credit is another issue to be met and solved by agrarian reform programmes.

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Those who have received land must be guaranteed the possibility of obtaining modern inputs at reasonable prices. The beneficiaries of land redistribution do not usually have sufficient savings to purchase such inputs, and therefore have to resort to loans. However, the high administrative cost of loans to small borrowers means that credit institutions are reluctant to grant them.

The only alternative for such farmers is, therefore, recourse to the informal credit sector, with all the costs and risks entailed. With a view to avoiding such risks, initiatives that promote the establishment of local co-operative banks should be encouraged. Programmes for an effective agrarian reform need to include support for the credit demands of the new farm units born of the reform.

Steps should be envisaged that encourage the offer of complementary forms of guarantee and reduce the handling costs of credit operations. Credit must be facilitated and encouraged for the various forms of association of the ventures born of the reform in view of the joint management of production services, joint purchase of inputs and joint marketing of produce. Alongside the establishment of services and infrastructures of direct interest for farm production, agrarian reform programmes must also envisage large-scale investment in health, education, public transportation and the supply of drinking-water.

In the rural areas of poor countries, these social services and infrastructures are seriously deficient in both quantity and quality. These services are fundamental for a modern way of life, and are also an indispensable component and factor in the growth of material well-being. They are therefore a key factor in sustainable development. Their utility is not confined to farmers and their families, but benefits the entire population by creating the conditions for a differentiation in production activities, a growth in overall locallyproduced income, and a consequent stemming of the rural exodus.

The dependable provision of these services is therefore a necessary condition for the battle against rural poverty and for containing the economic and social costs of urbanization. In the context of agrarian reform, every effort must therefore be made to ensure that public services and infrastructures of public utility in the rural areas are as accessible, available, acceptable and economic as possible. This applies particularly to health: access to basic health structures and hospitals, widespread health education and availability of simple, inexpensive remedies are vital in order to reduce mortality and morbidity.

With regard to services, maximum priority must be given to steps aimed at guaranteeing equal access to elementary schooling and the extension of education to secondary and higher levels for both young men and women. Under such conditions, education and professional training would not only offer each individual the means for maximum development of his or her own potential, but also become determining factors in bringing about the change in attitudes and behaviour needed to face the complexity of the modern-day world without excessive costs.


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  • The idea that education is a purely consumer expense and not a social investment would thus be overcome. Policies intended to facilitate access to modern technology and public services must pay special attention to the crucial position of women in farm production and the food economies of developing countries. While there are considerable variations from place to place, women in these countries supply over half the labour used in agriculture. Moreover, full responsibility for producing the food needed to support the family usually falls on their shoulders.

    Despite this, they are widely marginalised by severe forms of economic and social injustice. Even agrarian reform programmes consider women in terms of their domestic work and not as agents of productive action.

    Land Law Reform: Achieving Development Policy Objectives (Law, Justice, and Development)
    Land Law Reform: Achieving Development Policy Objectives (Law, Justice, and Development)
    Land Law Reform: Achieving Development Policy Objectives (Law, Justice, and Development)
    Land Law Reform: Achieving Development Policy Objectives (Law, Justice, and Development)
    Land Law Reform: Achieving Development Policy Objectives (Law, Justice, and Development)

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